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Stories & Interviews
Debby, one of the students on the last fall’s Flamenco Tour to Jerez sent me this summary of her experience a few days upon returning home with this note. “Thank you again for a 100% approval trip. Here is how I truly felt.” If you’re curious about what happens on the Flamenco Tour, read on:
In this video interview flamenco dancer Karen Lugo talks about her beginnings in Guadalajara, her obsession with rhythm that drove her to move to Spain, her influences, how she uses improvisation, her creative process, what she enjoys about teaching, advice for students, how she decides what to wear on stage, and what inspires her.
It’s the final day of the year, so let’s take some time to reflect before ringing in the new year. What moments stood out in your flamenco life this year?
Below you can see some of my favorite flamenco memories from 2018 (in chronological order). I feel extremely grateful for the wonderful experiences this year delivered. One of the things I most love is how each event pictured below offered a new opportunity to join with flamenco lovers from across the country (and the world in some cases) to enjoy this incredible art form together.
Here are my top seven flamenco memories of the year
Twenty years ago when I went to Spain for the first time, I got to see Paco de Lucía perform at Teatro de la Maestranza during the Bienal de Sevilla. This happened after I had been living there for about six months at a time when I was just beginning to understand what flamenco was.
Video interview with flamenco dancer and choreographer Manuel Liñan, winner of Spain's prestigious National Dance Award (Premio Nacional de Danza 2017), where he talks about life as a professional flamenco dancer and choreographer.
An interview with flamenco dancer Mercedes Ruíz where she talks about her beginnings, challenges she faced on the road to becoming a professional flamenco dancer, how she comes from a non-flamenco family (and how most of her family members don't even like flamenco), how motherhood has affected her dancing, what it's like working with her husband, what she loves about teaching, who some of her favorite dancers are, how she thinks it's never too late to start dancing flamenco, and the funny ritual that she must perform before going on stage.
Often after the Flamenco Tour I travel here and there. To explore, to scout things out for future tours, to visit friends, to see more flamenco... A couple of years ago after the trip ended I headed to Prado del Rey in the Sierra de Cádiz for a few days.
I did not rent a car and instead chose a home base with plenty of trails and places to explore on foot nearby. I spent a lot of time getting lost then finding myself in unintended places. While I look forward to hiking and discovering more of the sierra in the future, I'm very happy with my decision to travel sin coche this time around.
Some people considered the overall experience I had there (and my persistence in certain situations which you'll read about below) to be quite flamenca which makes me want to share this account of my adventures there with you:
This past Flamenco Tour was the smallest on record with only three of us! We still had an amazing time. Below read highlights from week two of the Flamenco Tour to Jerez. (You can see highlights from week one here, and you can read day-by-day accounts here and here.)
Getting To Know One Another
One of my favorite aspects of the Flamenco Tour is how the group tends to turn into our own little flamenco family. People take care of each other; they even try to take care of me although I’m supposed to be taking care of them. It's so comforting to feel the support of the people you're with …
I still remember that first evening
Sitting together in the courtyard, eating tapas, sharing stories.
It was the fall of 2012, and we were in Jerez. A group of foreigners together in Spain to learn and grow and have a good time. We danced and laughed, did flamenco, saw flamenco, heard flamenco, breathed flamenco. We walked about the town eating yummy food, drinking sherry and café con leche...
But, wait, let's back up for a moment.
What should you do if if you have just 15-20 minutes a day to practice?
That’s what a student asked me to find out when I interviewed Jesús Carmona last month.
Here are the five recommendations he shared along with videos to help you get started on your own at home. (Some of what he advises might surprise you.)
1. Abdominal Exercises
The first thing Jesús mentioned was the need to strengthen our abs. Don't know where to start? Try this:
We were named #3 in the Top Flamenco Blogs And Websites Every Flamenco Dancer Must Follow, Best Flamenco Blogs on the Planet by Feedspot Blog Reader.
That feels exciting!
I started this blog seven years ago at the suggestion of a student just before I left for Spain on the trip that inspired the Flamenco Tour to Jerez. I'm SO grateful that I did as it reconnected me to my love of writing, offered me a new means of expression, and most importantly, turned into a way to help and connect with others along their flamenco journeys. What started as a personal account of my flamenco learning has evolved into educational and informative articles, interviews with artists, translations of flamenco songs, and stories of my travels and flamenco studies.
In celebration of this, today I'd like to share with you some of my favorite posts from the past seven years.
What does it feel like to have been the first teacher to some of the most famous flamenco dancers from Jerez?
That's a question I asked Ana María López, one of the most influential flamenco instructors in Jerez, Spain, in the video interview you'll see below.
Sitting down with Ani . . .
In the interview Ani, as she's affectionately known, talks about how she grew up surrounded by flamenco in the San Miguel neighborhood of Jerez, began studying dance as a little girl, and later grew into one of the most well-known bulerías instructors around. She has been the primary teacher to some of the greatest flamenco dancers working today such as Mercedes Ruíz, Patricia Ibañez, and Carmen Herrera. Naturally, we study bulerías with her during the Flamenco Tour to Jerez. Watch through to the end of the video where you'll see her in the studio demonstrating how to dance bulerías with the cante and feel the joyful essence of Jerez.
This week's letra made me think of an experience I had years ago which has nothing to do with flamenco. It has to do with dishonesty and fear. It started with a question, which led to a lie, which in turn led to facing a fear. The facing fear part actually helped prepare me for flamenco where I'm forced to confront my fears over and over again. To my surprise, all of the practice meeting my fears in flamenco has only made it easier to do so in life outside of the dance.
More on that in a minute, but first let's take a look at the letra and watch a video of Mercedes Ruíz, our teacher on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez, dancing caña, all in red, with bata and mantón.
Subí a la alta montaña
buscando leña pa’ el fuego
como no la encontraba
al valle bajé de nuevo
After a full week in Jerez flamenco no longer simply surrounds us; it lives inside of us. Sounds from our dances play on repeat in our heads. We unintentionally walk up the steps in compás, the rhythms from class guiding us. We find ourselves dancing bulerías in our sleep. There’s no escaping it,
We are definitely in the midst of a flamenco immersion…
That’s what life was feeling like a week into the Flamenco Tour to Jerez. I’m now back home in Portland, and Jerez feels worlds away. Here’s a summary of the second week of our trip.
Flamenco is everywhere here in Jerez, in our classes, at the peñas and bars, and, then of course there's the spontaneous and casual flamenco that is a part of every day life here in Jerez. We see it as we walk past the bars and even as people greet each other on the street with palmas and a song. Olé. We can't get away from flamenco. We hear it as we walk to our rooms; we dance it in our sleep. (I've been doing steps and hearing sounds in my dreams which I know is a good thing.) Flamenco, flamenco, and more flamenco.
We are one week in to the Fall Flamenco Tour to Jerez, and I can hardly believe it. So much has happened and there is still so much more in store! People often ask me what happens during the Flamenco Tour, so below you can read about the first week of the fall tour, see photos, and even watch a video from one of the peña shows . . .
Thinking about that first trip to Spain in 1998 has reminded me that I need to step it up in the doing things that scare the *#%~&> out of me category. Read on for a lesson around that idea and more of my story from that first trip. Also, find out why it's essential to listen to flamenco music, read a letra about Sevilla, then see a video of Juana la del Revuelo, Aurora Vargas, and Remedios Amaya ...
During my time in Sevilla I saw these women perform. During my time in Sevilla I saw these women perform live. As you'll see from the video below, it was wonderful. Their CDs were among some of the first I purchased once I accepted the fact that I needed to start listening to flamenco music. You see, in the beginning I wasn't very interested in listening to the music, especially cante, unless I was dancing, but Chris convinced me to start listening. He said I needed to do this to understand and internalize the compás.
In 1998 I traveled to Spain to study flamenco. My plan was simple (and not very well thought out): Travel around, settle somewhere in Andalucía, find flamenco classes, find work. I had no contacts in Spain, no leads on where to study or work. I didn’t even know what city I was going to live in.
I just knew that if I wanted to learn flamenco I needed to go to Spain.
Today I'll tell you about finding flamenco in Sevilla, what it taught me about perseverance, and how it can help you.
I didn't plan much before I left for Spain. In part because I wanted to get a feel for the different cities before choosing where to settle. In part because thinking it through felt too overwhelming, and the more I thought about the details, the more I thought about changing my mind and staying put. I spoke Spanish, I had a strong desire to learn, I had saved enough money to hold me over for awhile, I felt ready for an adventure, and I knew I could figure things out once I arrived.
It's always fun to get a sneak peek into a flamenco dancer's life. So here's a brief video interview I did with Emilio Ochando last time he was in Portland. You'll find out what he enjoys about both teaching and performing as well as what kind of pre-performance rituals he does. Watch to the end for some outtakes. (The volume is low, and the quality is not the best, but don't worry, there are subtitles. Plus it gives you a chance to see just how gosh-darn cute this incredibly talented guy is!)
During last weekend's Flamenco Retreat at the Oregon Coast (which I'm still on a high from by the way and which you can see pictures of below) we all agreed that flamenco teaches us about life and about ourselves.
So, today I share with you fifty life lessons I've gleaned from flamenco.
(This list is full of links in case you'd like to dive deeper into some of the lessons.)
- Listen to your intuition, and trust your instincts.
- Express your true feelings.
- Be present.
- Stand beautifully in your power.
- Prepare. (Really prepare.)
- Take risks.
- Act with intention.
- The answers are in the mirror, so look.
- Show up.
Seeing this tribute to the late flamenco guitar master, Paco de Lucía who would have turned sixty nine years old today, gave me a HUGE smile this morning.
Check out this beautiful online exhibition, Memories of Paco, from the Instituto Andaluz del Flamenco via Google.
Here's what today's Google Doodle on google.es looks like:
If you ever get frustrated with flamenco, feel like you don’t belong, or feel like you’re too old to be doing this, read on for some words of wisdom from Mercedes Ruíz taken from past interviews along with a video to inspire.
(And if you’re curious to know more about this incredible woman we spend so much time dancing and learning with on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez, check out the links to all of the interviews I’ve done with her in full at the end of this post.)
When You Feel Like You Don’t Belong:
In our first interview Mercedes mentioned that she encountered a lot of problems on her way to becoming a flamenco dancer. This got me wondering, about what those obstacles were, and more importantly, how she handled them.
I thought about the flamenco world and it can be easy to feel left out or like you don't belong. (For me at least, because I let myself.) I wondered if any of that went on for Mercedes. Especially coming from Jerez, where people have some strong opinions about flamenco, how it is to be done, and who ought to do it. Prior to Mercedes, no one in her family had anything to do with flamenco. They still don't. Nor do they even like it really. So, I wondered how it must have felt for her, an outsider, to enter into this community. I learned that Mercedes, well,
Today I'll share why we need to practice slowly and give you an activity to help you do that, but first, some reflections:
I’ve been working with the same combination throughout the challenge, and I’ve found that with each new daily focus I also revisit all of the prior days’ areas of focus. In other words, I go through each new activity and (without a conscious plan to do so) layer the skills addressed in the previous challenge activities. It actually seems to have become impossible for me not to be aware of them when in challenge mode, and I’m loving that. How about you?
Now let’s move on to today’s challenge.
As you know, Mercedes Ruíz is big on doing things slowly.
As are so many other professionals.
I want to share a story with you about how I messed up dancing bulerías last weekend, how it left me feeling not so happy about my dancing, eight important lessons about flamenco (and life) I learned in the process, and how those lessons served me when I applied them to a sticky situation in my life.
So last weekend I took a workshop with Alfonso Cid. He shared bunches of bulerías letras with us (you'll find one below) and gave a very informative introduction to flamenco, with a focus on cante. He had us all singing and doing palmas and even got some of us up dancing.
Yay! (and Olé).
Some people got up to dance, mess up or not mess up, and learn along the way.
I was one of those people.
And here is what I learned:
Mercedes Ruíz, our teacher on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez, was awarded the 'Flamenco Hoy' prize for the Best Flamenco Dancer of 2015 (Mejor Bailaora). You can watch a new video of her below as well as read a flamenco letra on love.
Today marks two weeks since my return from Jerez.
Of course it feels good to be home, but I do miss the daily dance classes, shared meals and community, the immersion into the Spanish language, hearing and seeing flamenco everywhere, the southern Spanish sun, the pace of the day, and the escape, the simply being away.
Thankfully I got to come home to my absolutely amazing friends and loved ones, our incredible flamenco community here, and the beautiful state of Oregon. And thankfully I had flamenco already built into my schedule with our summer workshops and teaching at the Oregon Ballet Theatre.
If only I could still have class with Mercedes every morning . . .
I just returned home from Jerez, and naturally, I'm missing bulerías.
I have a letra to share with you today. It's one that David Lagos sang during our private show there, but before I do, I want to tell you a quick story.
On her last morning there, Julie took a final stroll around the city before she caught her train to Granada. On her way back to the apartments she found herself behind an older couple walking down the street. T
Today I'm going to share with you one mom's strategy for improving her dancing from home. It's something you can employ as well. (And trust me, if this busy mom can do it, so can you.) I lay out a simple 4-step process for you at the end of this post, but first, I want to introduce you to Katerina ...
I have a new student.
Her name is Katerina. Katerina had been wanting to learn flamenco for a long time. A few weeks ago she decided it was finally time and signed up for private lessons.
During Katerina's second class I was impressed with how much she'd improved from her first session. The moves she'd been so unsure about before she now danced in sequence with no help from me.
That's when she told me about her routine...
You already know about the two main settings for flamenco.
Today I want to discuss the five main elements of flamenco,
I’ve chosen to share one video and discuss the five main elements of flamenco within it.
Let’s take a closer look:
A couple of weeks ago, Virigina, a Flamenco Tour alum, sent me the following account of her time on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez. If you're curious about what happens on the Flamenco Tour, read on...
My Trip to Jerez
by: Virginia O'Hanlon
I have danced and taught Afro Cuban, Haitian and Brazilian dance for many years. I'm the sort of explorer who likes to "go to the source" so I have gone to these countries many times on dance/study trips. There were a few great trips, some ok, and two really miserable experiences.
I'm fairly new to flamenco -had 2 years in at the time of this trip- but became intrigued by the "por fiesta" dances so I started looking around for ways to study in Spain, particularly Jerez. I discovered Laura's trips, and it seemed like a structure that would work well for me, so I went last October. It was without a doubt one of the best, richest experiences that I've had, and here are some reasons why.